Hashem will send in your midst attrition, confusion, and worry, in your every undertaking …, because of the evil of your deeds…. Hashem will strike you with madness and with blindness, and with confounding of the heart. … Hashem will lead you…to a nation you never knew…. You will be a source of astonishment, a parable, and a conversation piece. … And among those nations you will not be tranquil, there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; there Hashem will give you a trembling heart, longing of eyes, and suffering of soul. (Deut. 28:20-65)
It must be “the occupation,” writes Shavit, as the glitterati swoon over his book. I can’t remember any other book reviewed with such vigor both from the Right and the Left. His book, My Promised Land, can be read on several levels and should be studied for what it says and what it implies. Words are important, but their interpretation too often gets lost in translation. I reflect on the words of another Israeli who, coming to terms with reality, had the honesty not to blame it on the occupation. Speaking eloquently of his dilemma, Yair Lapid, liberal bon vivant, upset Israel’s “Gray Lady” of the Left, Ha’aretz, when he opined:
While it may be true that the humane thing is to remove the roadblocks and checkpoints…to enable the Palestinians freedom of movement in the territories, to tear down the bloody inhumane wall, to promise them the basic rights ensured to every individual – it’s just that I will end up paying for this with my life….Petty of me perhaps to dwell on this point, after all, how important is my life when compared to the chance for peace, justice and equal rights. But still, call me a weakling; call me thick-headed – I don’t want to die. (Arutz Sheva, 9/1/12)
Quintessential sanity, affirming that the world may one day regain hope for the future.
To be honest, I relish those moments when the words of the narcissists of the Left, who believe they are above the mundane realities of everyday man, contradict themselves by admitting to their innermost fears. Ari Shavit, a journalistic prince and most thoughtful writer, failed for too long to see the obvious. He was looking so hard to place blame, seeking redemption from his own personal guilt and that of his great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, who made aliyah in 1897 with a dream that has chased Ari all the days and nights of his life. But Ari knew that he too was complicit in “the hideous occupation” by virtue of his beloved high-rises in Tel Aviv, his opulent mansions of Herzliya, his upscale palaces of culture and his gated communities of Netanya, Caserea, Haifa, Ashkelon… Hiding in these salons of hubris were his ghosts of guilt, the haunting reminders of his failure to keep faith with his great-grandfather’s dreams and with his G-d. Run, Ari, run. And so he has. But even as he basked in societal comforts of groupthink and his monetary salvation, his magnum opus, My Promised Land, tells the story that all his running was to no avail. His great-grandfather’s love is embedded too deeply – and there were always those moments of truth he sought to evade. Yet every once in a while Ari the WASP (“White Ashkenazi Supporter of Peace,” page 255) would cast a moment’s glance in the mirror, and Truth would smile back – in the image of his great-grandfather. No other title could capture Ari’s personal covenant as precisely as My Promised Land!
The peace story is also my story. For upper-middle-class secular Ashkenazi Israelis like me, peace…defined our identity…. Peace was our religion. … But only when I turned thirty and began listening seriously to what Palestinians were actually saying did I realize that the
promise of peace was unfounded, …bogged down by a systematic denial of the brutal reality we live in. … [T]he Left endorsed the unsound and irrational belief that ending occupation would bring peace. … The Left adopted the peace illusion… (My Promised Land, pages 252- 254).
Ah, such beautiful words, if only fleeting, the “ peace illusion” is shattered by the fallacy of his premise. “It must be the occupation!” Reflected in the mirror was the pintele yid, this great-grandson, standing on
the shoulders of the “rigid and pedantic” Bentwich whose “dominant traits are arrogance, determination, self-assurance, self-reliance and non-conformity.” Yet Ari also describes him as “very much a romantic” whose manner is “that of a nobleman.” (pages 6-7) Ari the romantic is in many ways a chip off the old Bentwich block. Except that Bentwich, the Jewish bible-thumper, had taken to heart in not-so jolly London the words G-d spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, “I give this Land to you as an everlasting covenant.” Ari admits that had he met Herbert Bentwich, “I probably wouldn’t have liked him.”(page 7) You see, Ari’s lapses with truth won’t last. After all, there were dinner parties to
attend and flattering interviews to grant. The articulate mad hatter had to run to his next affair, for there was an audience to entertain and blame to place. It couldn’t be the fault of his infallible Left. They were too sophisticated, too intellectual, too clever. Gullible, never. Surely not naïve. They had the certitude that distinguished the refined from the rabble of the settlements, and after all, “It’s the occupation.”
A soul lost in the cleverness of words, he genuflects to the mantra, “It’s the occupation.” Occupation and the settlers are obviously to blame. If it weren’t for the occupation and the settlers, the world would be kinder, gentler … philo-Semitic. After all, Jew hatred is so passé. “Then we Israelis could live our lives like Europeans – universalists – no longer living lives of intellectual squalor in our Israeli ghetto.” Ring out, O Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! …(Well, maybe not fraternity.) But had Ari forgotten Bilaam’s blessing? “Behold! [Israel] is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations. … How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” Proudly standing behind his secularism, he thought he could run away…I’m not a settler and I despise the occupation, he pleaded. But the world followed him, tugging at his coat, grabbing at his sleeves, pulling at the very fiber of his being. Ari cannot escape the dreams of Great-grandfather Bentwich or his greatgrandfather’s courage and love of the Land. Yes, Ari may smile and possess a clever wit. He may accept the accolades of the masses who don’t see beyond his mask, the critics who don’t hear the anxiety in his voice, and his accomplices who have their own agendas. But it always comes back to Great-grandfather Bentwich’s haunting smile.
Is Ari a fraud? Not really. Just a bit fearful of the responsibilities of his heritage that he unwillingly became part of – a uniquely privileged heritage laden with familial history – a heritage he sometimes
wants to escape. Yet his title bespeaks his truth, My Promised Land. He cries out to all within earshot, It’s not me! I’m fair; I’m just. I’m sensitive. I’m part of all mankind. I want to repudiate my greatgrandfather,
the fanatic, the usurper. Let me be like every man! His shadow chases him in the moonlight. It is told that Jewish men in ancient Greece stretched their prepuce—Ari stretches his words – I’m innocent. It’s the settlers. It’s that damned occupation… Ari knows that behind his smiling
Cheshire cat-like mask he is not innocent. And the haters hated him even more for his protestations that he is not one of those Jews, because they know different. Does Ari really believe they believe his lies? For all his efforts to deceive them and make them out for fools, they hate him even more.
Where can Ari hide? Behind his words at Ha’aretz, for a time; but its circulation is shrinking. Gideon Levy and Amos Schocken are not amused. He may soon have to face the truth alone: It’s not the occupation! It’s that smiling Jew in the F-16; the smiling Jew who discovers that life-saving drug. It’s that smiling Jew who made the desert bloom – and is building, seemingly against the odds, the most incredible country in the world. It’s that Jew standing on the podium accepting another Nobel Prize; and it’s the Jew who is less than a quarter of one percent of the world population – a mere speck of a people, who punches well above his weight. It’s the Jew who studies three thousand year-old writings with devotion and love. It’s that Jew who accepts responsibility for being “a light unto the nations” and is happy to share his gifts with the world – triumphant and unafraid of being called “Jew.” It’s the Jew for whom the words “My Promised Land” evoke nachas. Kafka would be proud.
Ari writes, “I love Mohammed [Palestinian-Israeli attorney Mohammed Dahla (Mo for short), who Ari explains acquired a national Palestinian identity at the university (page 315)]. He is smart and engaged and full of life. He is direct, warm, and devilishly talented. …We hold common values and beliefs [which Ari doesn’t actually believe]. And yet there is a terrible schism between us.” (pages 323-324) Yes, the schism between Ari and Mo is a reflection of Ari’s conundrum of Lydda 1948, a fairytale of sorts, where Shmaryahu Gutman, the Jewish military governor of Lydda took control of the Arab population after the battle and confronts the Arab dignitaries:
THE ARAB DIGNITARIES ASK: “What will become of the prisoners detained in the mosque?”
SHMARYAHU GUTMAN ANSWERS: “We shall do to the prisoners what you would do had you imprisoned us.”
ARABS: “No, no please don’t do that.”
GUTMAN: “Why, what did I say? All I said is that we will do to you what you would do to us.”
ARABS: “Please no, master. We beg you not to do such a thing.”
GUTMAN: “No, we shall not do that. Ten minutes from now the prisoners will be free to leave the mosque and leave their homes and leave Lydda along with all of you and the entire population…”
ARABS: “Thank you, master. G-d bless you.” (page 122)
But what about that massacre – Don’t we need the massacre?!
Mo is Ari’s friend because he is “smart and full of life” but also because he speaks the truth, even if Ari refuses to hear it. Mo whispers in Ari’s ear, “If the Palestinians’ rights are not respected and Palestinians’ equality is not guaranteed [impossible], that will lead to the beginning of the countdown to the outbreak of Palestinian riots within Israel [your Promised Land]. … The future is ours. …No matter what tricks you try, you will not be able to maintain a Western state with a Jewish character here. … We will be your masters, and you will be our servants.” (page 323)
Yes, as Ari writes, there is indeed a schism. Mohammed understands who he is and what he demands. With a smile and a cup of tea, his eyes twinkling, his words may be spoken softly, but they are unequivocal and uncompromising: We will slaughter the Jews…we will again dominate you, while Ari hears only what he wants to hear. Lydda is Ari’s fairytale. His friendship with Mo is his lie. It is not the occupation, dear Ari. Remember, “Israeliness is familyness.” (page 416) Great-grandfather Bentwich is smiling, with tears of pride running down his cheeks. His dream has been imprinted on Ari’s psyche, and Ari must now choose: Will it be the schism with Mo or a great-grandfather’s blessing to his great-grandson – the miracle of your Jewish Promised Land. Choose well, Ari – your heart implores you to make the right choice. Choose wisely.
In memory of my special friend, Rabbi William Z. Novick z”l
Shabbat Shalom, Jack “Yehoshua” Berger